Nov 23, 2014

"Sweet are the fruits of toil"

Radha, a day wage labourer from Ratanpur village of Faizabad district, Uttar Pradesh, harvesting sugar cane

There are five villages in Odisha where visitors always seem to notice a palpable sense of community, unity and responsibility. Deogarh is predominantly regarded as an agriculture dependent district, the communities residing in and around the forest resources had begun to witness forest degradation at a faster rate which in turn had a disastrous effect on their life and livelihood.

The fertility of the paddy fields as well as the soil moisture retention capacity had reduced to a large extent, this leads to a decrease in soil productivity. The poorest of the poor and forest dependent people realised the importance of forest and were supported by the farming community to form village level forest protection committees which accepted the challenge of forest protection, conservation and management.

From 2008, three villages of Khilei Gram Panchayat (GP) and two villages of Nuadihi2 GP have undertaken Community Based Sustainable Forest Management activities with the facilitation of Regional Centre for Development Cooperation, an Oxfam India partner NGO. The villages as well as the community institutions have undergone several capacity building activities to learn and implement the forest protection and conservation methodologies. The villagers have shared and recorded the traditional knowledge and practices of the communities for forest protection, conservation and management.

 

The forest conservation rules are:

  • No green felling is allowed and carrying axes inside the forest is banned.
  • For fuel wood the village will collect dry twigs.
  • Hunting wildlife is banned.
  • Each family will participate in Thengapali (a social regulation system for forest protection), activities and contribute Rs 5 as Chulichanda (donation).
  • Grazing inside the forest is prohibited and a “Gotha” concept was introduced to check indiscriminate grazing.
  • To avoid fires, no one is allowed to carry matches when entering the forest.
  • Gram Panchayat and neighbouring villages were informed about the watch-and-ward policy.
  • A boundary of the forest area under protection has been delineated.
  • A map has been prepared and trespassing has been declared an offence.
  • Fines and proscriptions are imposed on the forest-rule offenders.
  • Forest issues were identified on sample patches and activities initiated to rectify them.
  • Van Mahotsav and Raksha Bandhan were celebrated in the protected forest.

Initially, the approach was to enhance forest dependency and to reduce forest pressure. Since, the communities were focused on cultivation; the forest was a neglected area. When people got sensitised and their forest dependency increased, the forest activities got equal attention. The community has introduced a biodiversity register to record the developments and changes that occur in the forest. Efforts are now made to restore endangered and extinct species. A people centric approach with more focus on women is followed as women are more connected to the forest than men. People’s knowledge and skill with regard to flora and fauna management is the basis of SFM. Decentralised forest governance and enhancing forest conservation with dependency is central to forest-based livelihood; it also strengthens the protection and management regime of the forests.

People of the villages have seen the fruits of their toil. They also cultivate mushrooms, and have prepared leaf composts and are involved in pest control, biodiversity assessment and forest inventory and regeneration. The forests under Gagua Reserve Forest, Rambhadevi Reserve Forests and Chakradharpur and Lualoi Revenue Forests have not faced any forest fires in the past few years. Initiatives taken by these five villages are a source of inspiration for others to emulate.

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